Shining a Light on Our Community – Prince William Living Celebrates the Start of Its Fifth Year

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by Audrey Harman

If you could pick up Prince William County, Va. and put it almost anywhere else in the United States, it would be easily recognized as a superstar community. The area is a national leader in job growth (even during the recession), has award winning schools, is rich in history and cultural resources and boasts abundant natural beauty. However, within the bustling economy of Northern Virginia and in the shadow of the nation’s capital, Prince William has to work just a little bit harder to have its many attributes recognized.

Prince William Living marketing director Amanda Causey Baity and publisher Rebecca Barnes at "Evening Under the Stars," a fundraiser for CASA-CIS.

Prince William Living marketing director Amanda Causey Baity and
publisher Rebecca Barnes at “Evening Under the Stars,” a fundraiser
for CASA-CIS.

Prince William Living was developed to shine a light on all that Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park have to offer residents and visitors. However, it was not the brainchild of a visitors center, economic development department or high-stakes marketing firm. Rather, it was a grassroots effort from longtime residents who wanted to share their community pride.

“Prince William Living was born from the idea that we did not have a lifestyle magazine to showcase our community, something high-quality that would highlight all we have to offer. It has morphed into so much more,” said publisher Rebecca Barnes.

It took months of behind-the-scenes work and a huge leap of faith to launch the inaugural issue in January 2011. According to Barnes, the people involved in the magazine have always had a passion for and commitment to the community. “[We have] shared a large vision,” said Barnes.

The first photographer was then-high school student Zack Owen, Barnes’ son. The writers served on a volunteer basis, meeting in a local Panera, where they spoke in hushed tones lest story ideas become public too soon. Since it takes months for a magazine to go from concept to print, there was a legitimate risk of being beaten to their own story ideas.

Since those early days, meetings have moved into a more private conference room, the magazine has grown by eight pages and increased from 10,000 printed copies to 12,000 each month. Prince William Living has also built a strong online following, with more than 5,600 Facebook followers.

Living the Mission
The stated mission of PWL is “to build a better community by promoting quality-of-life issues, including solid economic development, strong education and workforce development, supporting the arts community and encouraging volunteerism through our local not-for-profits.”

This mission is reflected in the structure of the magazine, with monthly departments that include stories on “Giving Back,” “Taking Care of Business” and “On a High Note.”

“Prince William Living magazine is an asset to this community, bringing arts, entertainment and features that are relevant to the community and our citizens,” said Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish.

“I’ve been reading Prince William Living for the last few years and have found it to be a great resource for local happenings and great stories about area people, nonprofit organizations, and businesses,” said Occoquan Mayor Liz Quist. “True to its mission, the magazine presents positive stories to affect and inspire.”

The publication’s mission is also furthered through its annual Giving Back and Influential Women awards. Giving Back Awards recognize a local not-for-profit organization doing outstanding work in the community. Winners, selected through a combination of public nomination and panel judging, are highlighted in the magazine and receive a complimentary 12-month advertising package to promote their services. All nominees are listed online, increasing their visibility. The goal is to introduce the public to area service organizations, thereby encouraging volunteerism.

The Influential Women Awards identifies women who are making a difference in Prince William, whether through their civic or professional achievements. Readers nominate women in December and January; from this group, a panel selects five to feature in the March issue. “The ‘Women’s Issue’ is one of our most popular. We receive so much positive feedback about these inspirational women; it’s rewarding to be able to tell their stories,” said editor in chief Emily Guerrero.

Additionally, PWL often holds various drives during its monthly editorial meetings, collecting items such as food and toys for area charities. Each winter, the publication also donates money to the Chamber’s “Winter Warm-Up” drive, which supplies children in need with warm clothing.

“When people read the magazine, or see the Volunteer Prince William call for volunteers list that we re-publish each week online, my hope is that they will be moved to act,” said Barnes, who herself volunteers at the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department and participates in a number of community organizations.

Sleuthing for Stories
Each July, the management team, made up of Barnes, Guerrero and marketing director and photo editor Amanda Causey Baity, meet to select the feature topics for the year ahead. This provides a general framework for each month and gives advertisers an understanding of which issues might best fit their marketing goals.

For the remaining departments, story ideas are born from staff experiences, press releases, reader submissions, something a friend of a friend saw on Facebook… everybody involved in the magazine becomes a sleuth, on the lookout for new restaurants, business success stories, inspiring nonprofits or the super-cool spot that nobody seems to know about. The common denominators include stories with roots in Prince William that will help readers connect with their community in a positive way.

Story ideas are added to the “world’s longest spreadsheet,” to be kicked around at monthly editorial meetings, now held at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce offices in Manassas. Different angles are discussed, along with the best timing for publication. Some will be ruled out, others marked for future consideration. The ideas that make it to the editorial calendar are quickly assigned to writers and photographers who will bring the story to life.

Prince William Living editor in chief Emily Guerrero and publisher Rebecca Barnes try their luck during the Chips4Charity fundraiser. The PWL team can often be found at community events.

Prince William Living editor in chief Emily Guerrero and publisher
Rebecca Barnes try their luck during the Chips4Charity fundraiser.
The PWL team can often be found at community events.

“PWL has always done well with giving readers a range of what’s going on throughout the county,” said Gainesville resident Patrick King. “PWL is a great way for me to keep up with what’s going on throughout the county—not just what’s happening near my house.”

Sometimes writers may be interviewing their own neighbor, and other times they’re sitting down with a complete stranger whose story they rapidly become invested in telling. As a monthly publication, PWL is able to focus on in-depth storytelling in its feature stories. “PWL allows you to delve into the subject matter and help bring the information to county residents,” writer Olivia Overman said.

“I’ve lived in Prince William County for more than 15 years, but until Prince William Living came along I was unaware of many of the hidden treasures—people, places, and things—that our area contains,” PWL writer and editor Peter Lineberry said. “I joined the magazine late in its inaugural year as an editor, a ‘typocatcher,’ really, and have been fortunate to remain ever since. Plus, I’ve gotten the opportunity to write about baseball and basketball, clowns and kids, barbecue and seafood—all the good things in life.”

Writers turn their completed stories into the editorial department two months prior to publication. “We believe in
nurturing our writers. We allow extra time to explain changes and work with them to polish their stories. It’s not a matter of ‘We’re the editors and what we say goes.’ Everything is very collaborative here,” Guerrero said.

Personally, I’ve found this to be true. When I joined PWL in 2011, I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know where to start. Through my work here, I have overcome some of my introverted nature, and as a result, I have made many connections and met many inspiring people. As one of the younger contributors, I have had both a lot to prove and a lot to learn; PWL gave me the opportunity to do my dream job and has proven to be just the teacher I needed.

After finalizing edits, Guerrero sends the stories and photographs to graphic designer Alison Dixon, who lays everything out to create the final product. This takes place a month prior to publication.

“We get a lot of requests to publish time-sensitive stories in the magazine, but we can’t accommodate them. It’s hard to explain that in January, we are editing stories for the March issue,” Guerrero said. In those cases, she encourages people to submit a press release for online publication. “I’d say about 99 percent of the community news we receive makes it on the website, and often gets homepage and social media visibility. While print has its limitations, we try to tell as many of these local stories as we can online,” she said.

According to Prince William Chamber President & CEO Debbie Jones, the publication is doing a good job of it. “Prince
William Living brings something unique to our community because they are the only lifestyle publication, highlighting what it is like to explore, dine, volunteer, shop and generally ‘live’ in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park,” Jones said. “They cover the softer side of news and continue to remind our residents of the many reasons why this community is so amazing.”

Showing the Story
In the age of the Internet and tight budgets, printed, glossy and full-color is a rarity in community magazines. A team of photographers contribute their talents to ensure that PWL has the images it needs to draw readers in, helping them further engage in the stories.

“Having PWL focus or feature different places, businesses, or things around the community invites the community to explore more of what’s offered, whether it’s our rich history, burgeoning arts community, or just the little shop that’s down the street you never knew existed,” said photographer Kathy Strauss. The magazine regularly relies on her broad catalogue of photos taken throughout Prince William.

“She’s everywhere. Whether we need a photo of a parade or a stunning shot of the waterfront, we always know Kathy has us covered,” Guerrero said. “We also have Linda Hughes who takes mouth-watering food photography, and Sean Floars is wonderful at action shots. In a short time, Robert Jinks is already making a name for himself, as is Chris Lehto. Some of our writers, like Amy Falkofske, are also talented photographers. We’re very fortunate, and our team is always growing.”

In addition to the images seen in print, event coverage online often primarily consists of photo galleries that show rather than tell what is happening in Prince William.

Barnes noted that there’s been an increasing demand for reprints of photos seen in the magazine and website. As a result, later this month, PWL plans to launch an online storefront for purchasing its photos and products displaying these images. “It’s a way to further support our talented photographers and to share the beauty of Prince William beyond the pages of the magazine,” said Barnes, adding that photographer Mark Gilvey has taken the reins on the technical side of the project. “He’s helped tremendously with meeting the related watermarking and copyright challenges, and in researching sales platforms.”

Earning Recognition
Prince William Living has turned a few heads since its launch, winning the 2012 Prince William Chamber New Business of the Year Award and the 2012 Seefeldt Award, Business Supporter of the Arts, presented by the Prince William County Arts Council.

Prince William Living earned the Prince William Chamber’s “New Business of the Year” award a year after its launch.

Prince William Living earned the Prince
William Chamber’s “New Business of
the Year” award a year after its launch.

PWL’s New Business of the Year Award nomination included a statement from ColesDistrict Supervisor Marty Nohe, who said the magazine highlights the growth and good things found in Prince William, which aids the local economy.

“Prince William Living has been an invaluable community partner with the Prince William County Arts Council and its constituent members,” said Sheyna Burt, PWC Arts Council Chair. “The magazine offers a sophisticated and thoughtful look at life in the county and it uses its reputation and reach to help our artists to share their stories and events. PWL is a friend of the Arts Council and we are better able to fulfill our mission because of our relationship with it.”

Keeping Readers Connected
Through PWLiving.com, readers can stay connected to local stories and activities all month long. In addition to electronic copies of all print issues, the website features the latest community news, coverage of recent events, recipes, craft ideas and more. Here, readers can also learn how to subscribe, advertise, submit story ideas and press releases and even apply to join the PWL team. During the nomination periods for the Giving Back and Influential Women awards, nomination forms are posted online as well.

You can also interact with PWL on social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, get condensed glimpses of new stories, comment on posts and announcements of contests and promotional giveaways. These accounts are updated several times a day.

On Pinterest.com/pwliving, you’ll find an easy-to-navigate page that links to popular PWL stories and bonus material. Or, just enjoy the pictures!

“Oftentimes in our busy lives we don’t see the opportunities that are right in front of us. With the daily postings on the Facebook page, the beautiful web page and the gorgeous glossy monthly magazine, PWL helps me stay connected to my community and the many events and activities available for me to enjoy,” said Gayle Whitlock of Lake Ridge. Her company, Whitlock Wealth Management, is a longtime advertiser in the magazine.

As it enters into its fifth year, Prince William Living is on track to continue supporting the people, places and organizations at the heart of this thriving community by telling their stories and building connections. “I have always tried to be a community cheerleader, a maven, connecting people, creating win-win situations,” said Barnes. “Prince William Living has allowed me to do that on an even larger level, something I could never reach by myself. Surrounded by an energetic team, loyal advertisers and enthusiastic readers, there is no telling what positive changes we can make.”

Audrey Harman has been a resident of Prince William since 1988. She has a BA in English and Spanish from Hollins University and an MA in publications design from the University of Baltimore. She can be reached at aharman@princewilliamliving.com or you can view her portfolio at audreyharman.com.

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